Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa Review
Well, isn't this a pip! Having rightly criticised The Wild for its similarity to Madagascar, along comes Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa with a sacrifice-to-a-volcano-god scene not so very far removed from that of The Wild. Are there so few ideas in animation that filmmakers must go a-rifling in each other's movies? Should this continue, anyone playing future incarnations of The Wild and Madagascar within earshot of one another will, over the chatter of David Schwimmer, Ben Stiller, Cedric The Entertainer, Janeane Garofalo and Eddie Izzard in their respective films, hear the distinctive whistle of feedback between them, not unlike a caller to a radio phone-in who's left their wireless on in the background. Or, the cry of SNAP! between filmmakers straying too close to one another.
Having last seen out heroes apparently content on the island of Madagascar, eating sushi and being praised to high heaven by the lemurs there, Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa sees them wishing to leave the bozos behind for the safety of New York. However, rather than see his freaks depart entirely, King Julian (Sacha Baron Cohen) and his trusty aide Maurice (Cedric The Entertainer), go along for the ride. However, when said ride is a plane made airworthy with little more than lick and spittle, they might have been best not to bother. To everyone's surprise, the plane doesn't crash immediately after being flung into the air with the world's second biggest slingshot but actually rights itself and, piloted by a crack unit of penguins, is set on a course for New York City. Alex (Ben Stiller), Marty (Chris Rock), Melman (David Schwimmer) and Gloria (Jada Pinkett Smith), accompanied by the pooh-throwing monkeys and the bone-dry skeletons of the people, settle down and wait to see the Big Apple from their windows. But the plane runs out of fuel not long after takeoff and everyone crash lands in an animal reservation in Africa. Not only do these animals have to survive in the wild once again but Alex, the King of New York City, has a surprise waiting for him. The King of the Jungle is his father!
The good news is that the penguins are back. Skipper (Tom McGrath), Kowalski (Chris Miller), Private (Christopher Knights) and Rico (John DiMaggio) were the highlight of the first film and are so again here, whether it's their working out their ramshackle plane is out of fuel on account of Engine 2 no longer being on fire or their dealing with a group of unionised monkeys who are, to a man, demanding access to improved maternity leave. Operation Tourist Trap, their novel way of stealing a jeep from a tourist party is to be admired, not least their getting away with deliberately running over an old woman in their liberated Land Rover in a PG-rated film, not once but twice. "Is she dead yet?" they ask, while Boston plays on 8-track. And the reasons for their brilliance isn't confined to the situations they engineer for themselves. With little fuss being made in how they have been animated, subtle gestures like a raised eyebrow or slightly widened eyes work on the penguins where they might have gotten lost on Alex or Melman. They are superbly animated characters and roll on the television series in which they feature.
On the other hand, all of the other characters are back too. Even that damn I Like To Move It! song gets a cameo, appearing as a cue for the film not unlike Bond's gun-barrel point of view, letting anyone who might have missed all the other clues presented thus far, that this is a Madagascar movie. Even the exact same plot is back, albeit that this film finds our heroes in a different if equally wild part of the world and finding that they must turn to their own unique skills in order to survive. For the hypochondriac Melman, this sees him using his not inconsiderable medical skills to become a witch doctor to the animals on the reservation. Gloria discovers that the ticking of her biological clock has coincided with her meeting the hefty Moto Moto (will.i.am), who happens to like big ladies. Marty, who only ever wanted to run wild, falls in with a herd of zebra who love to do just that. And Alex...well, Alex has the most interesting of the stories here. A flashback sets the scene. As a young lion cub, he had been lured out of the animal reserve and, in a wooden crate, fallen into a river, which eventually led, via the ocean, to New York. Now back in Africa, he meets his mother and father, Zuba (Bernie Mac) and Florrie (Sherri Shepherd), who welcome their little Alex home. But he has arrived just as Makunga (Alex Baldwin) is challenging alpha male Zuba for leader of the pack. Makunga sees Alex as his ticket to glory, particularly when this King of New York is no more a wild and untamed beast than is the nodding dog from the Churchill advertisements.
Never mind The Wild. Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa owes so much to The Lion King that not only does one wonder if Jeffrey Katzenberg actually own the copyright to the Disney film and is legally equipped to remake it as many times as he pleases but if Timon and Pumbaa had wandered in to shot, one wouldn't have been at all surprised. The father, son and villain roles of Mufasa, Simba and Scar are reprised in Zuba, Alex and Mukanga, while the latter even gets a white stripe through his impressive quiff in place of the line across Scar's eye. And just as the collapse of the food chain of The Lion King was the price that everyone paid for Scar becoming alpha male, so in Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, it's the drying up of the watering hole once Zuba and Alex are banished to make room for Makunga. Cue Alex and his dancing skills and King Julian urging everyone to sacrifice an animal to the angry volcano gods. "Quickly! Before they come to their senses!"
However, why complain when that's a bare-as-bones story on which to hang the comedy. Katzenberg has already talked about a third film in which our heroes return to New York, so we know that's not going to happen in this film. Instead, Alex, Marty, Melman and Gloria, as they did in the first film, learn something about themselves and each other and in spite of looking hopelessly ill-equipped to survive in the wild, find that the urban jungle of New York taught them enough to get by. However, look past all that and one can appreciate some very funny moments, be it the crash landing, the homage to The Twilight Zone or the chaos on the screen with the arrival of the teams of opposable thumbs. Unlike Madagascar, which was really an Alex and Marty show, this is as much about Gloria and Melman and while the PG certification ensures that we don't see quite how a giraffe might mate with a hippo, there are some steps taken with their romance. Melman, in particular, has some fine moments, be it with his flourishing medical career, this admonishing of Moto Moto or his resigning himself to an end in the holes in which giraffes lower themselves into in order to await their death, to which King Julian believes him to be nothing more than a sad little head sitting in the sand.
Sometimes, though, one feels that Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa is trying too hard to make a point. This viewer can't be the only one to wonder if Marty's telling off of Alex over his failure to recognise him amongst a herd of zebras has a hint of racism to it, moreso when Marty asks if they all look the same to Alex. Then there's the matter of romance between a seemingly ill-matched couple and, in the tourists to succumb to the jungle and go all Lord Of The Flies on us, a theme of surviving no matter what. However, it's still funny and a film that belongs to the penguins. They seem to have been given more screen time than they were in Madagascar, which is either in recognition of how well they worked on the screen or is promoting their spin-off television show. But, out of stolen jeeps and what they can salvage from their plane, they manage to build, Chicken Run-style, a monkey-powered helicopter that sees them flying off into the sunset. If they fail to make it back for Madagascar: The 3ig Apple, it'll be a sorry way to draw these movies to a close.
Last updated: 18/04/2018 21:27:15